Sunday, June 1, 2008

Bründlmayer’s Sparkling Wines

I’ve said before that some of my favorite sparkling wines outside of Champagne are those of Bründlmayer. Today at VieVinum, I had the opportunity to taste the new releases of Bründlmayer’s Brut and Brut Rosé after enjoying his magnificent collection of 2007 grüner veltliner and riesling.

Willi Bründlmayer has been making sparkling wine since the 1989 vintage, and has always bottled it as a vintage wine. For that first vintage, he and his wife Edwige, who is French, actually took a trip to Epernay to have the base wine analyzed by the oenological station there, and to ask for advice on fermentation and production. Today, the Bründlmayer Brut has a finesse and complexity that surpasses much of what is being made in Champagne, although it presents an array of flavors that is all its own.

The vintage brut is composed of roughly equal parts chardonnay and pinot noir, along with about ten percent pinot gris (which Bründlmayer is increasingly favoring over pinot blanc for the sparkling wine) and ten percent grüner veltliner. Veltliner might seem like an odd choice for a sparkling wine, but Bründlmayer cites its versatility with food as the primary reason for its inclusion. “I love very much to drink sparkling wine with food,” he says. “Grüner veltliner is the most harmonious wine with food, and I would like to introduce this ability of grüner veltliner into the sparkling wine.”

The excellent 2005 Brut has just been disgorged a few months ago, and will be released shortly. Its yeasty, autolytic nose could easily be mistaken for champagne, and I love the tension between its ripe, firm depth of fruit and its undertone of saline, savory minerality. It’s bigger in body but also finer in texture and longer on the finish than the 2004, which I drank a couple of nights ago at my favorite Viennese wine bar, Vis-a-Vis, owned by restaurateur Hans Weibel.

Bründlmayer has also just released his second bottling of Brut Rosé, made from pinot noir, zweigelt and St. Laurent. It’s currently blended from approximately 80 percent 2005 and 20 percent 2006, although Bründlmayer would eventually like to make it from a single year. “The objective is to make vintage rosé,” he says. “Maybe one day we will, but right now we feel more secure if we blend a little bit.” The wine is superb, and very original — I’m not sure I can relate it to anything being made in Champagne. It’s creamy and rich in texture, with a sappy, staining depth of strawberry and red cherry fruitiness on the palate. Its vivid concentration makes it feel bold and extroverted, yet it’s not very large in body, and its fine texture and long, fragrant length combine to give an impression of delicacy and elegance.

Bründlmayer told me today that when they were in Epernay back in ’89, they were waiting for the lab oenologists to finish testing their wines, and the oenologists were talking amongst themselves, thinking that Bründlmayer and his wife didn’t speak French. “If these guys can make base wines like this in a country like Austria,” they said, “we’d better watch out.” Today, I think that there are quite a number of people in Champagne who could learn a thing or two from Bründlmayer.